No sentence throws up a red flag quite like “Check out this band, they play hardcore with a
twist!” As far as my taste is concerned, hardcore is meant to be played as true to its
forefathers as possible, leaving innovation and genre-bending to any of the hundreds of other
rock-based styles. Let the indie rockers, prog nerds and metalheads twist things around, I just
want my hardcore to sound like Victim In Pain, okay? And yet, in spite of my puritanical
needs, a band like Dry Rot exists to play hardcore as if they created the style themselves,
with influences that either cancel each other out or make no sense. It really shouldn’t gel, and
yet through their slow-growing discography, recently capped off with their fantastic debut
album Philistine, Dry Rot have proven to be worth following, so much for their victories as
for their losses. Masterminds Jordan and Drew have no qualms explaining themselves here –
just be thankful that I didn’t prod them into a deeper discussion of MxPx’s Life In General, a
true 90′s pop-punk gem that time and shame seems to have erased from the collective memory.
When and how did Dry Rot get started?
Jordan (guitar): Dry-Rot had its impetus from a group house we all shared in Santa
Barbara (about 25 miles north of Ventura, where I grew up and currently live) in 2004-5.
A bunch of friends who were all going to different colleges in the area at the time. If you
look at it, Santa Barbara was the perfect breeding ground for Dry-Rot: a beautiful resort
town paradise. It’s a place that gives you the feeling that everyone is rich, good-looking,
etc. Of course that’s not the case; in fact Santa Barbara’s class gap is even wider than
Ventura’s. So for instance, you go downtown and for every ego’ed-out rich bozo there’s
a drunk bum banging on cans for change. This was the perfect paradox milieu in which our
band was conceived.
I was away on a semester abroad in Europe while Drew (singer) and Patrick (drummer) had
been kicking around a new band idea. I believe it was to be called GAK. Drew had sang in
a wonderful band called Blood Dumpster and Patrick and I had played in a long-staying local
hardcore band called Hit The Deck. We were fresh off that band when we wanted to break
from that (not necessarily musically, but “scene” and environment-wise). They had a plan
that kind of fizzled. I’m the “hard-nosed one” of our group of friends (I prefer the “father”
moniker but let’s be honest). I can’t find the words… I’m not stubborn, it’s just I have the
tendency to force action. I can’t stifle creatively or I’ll just ruin everyone’s time around me.
I was itching to play guitar (had sung in the aforementioned band) so I took the reigns and
wrote a grip of songs… what would be the first three songs from the “Permission” album.
The guys took to it fine enough and we went from there. Patrick kind of drifted off while
Drew and I (the only contiguous members of Dry-Rot) tried to stabilize something. After a
very strange and memorable first show (a whole different topic there!) the band finally
settled into what I would consider its’ “classic” line-up: Drew (vocals), me (guitar), Patrick
(drums) and Cameron (bass). It should be made clear that from the beginning and until now
the band has, at its core, been Drew and I. Patrick and Cameron resonated closest to the
vision of the band, and had things worked out they would still be a part of it.
Drew (vocals): If Jordan won’t talk about the first show, then I will! We had a different
drummer who was this snotty little prude who we recorded a demo with, in either late January
or early February 2005, and like I said, the guy was a wimp, but he could play the drums very
well. The show was a birthday party for some kid in his bedroom. On the first note of the first
song, the PA system somehow flew across the room and I probably grabbed Jordan’s guitar and
threw it out of tune. I don’t think we actually played a full song, because every time we
started to play, one of us would just break something. At one point I looked over and Cameron
had thrown his bass on the ground and was punching the bridge, and his hands were bleeding.
By the end, none of the instruments were working, I had broken the PA and drumset, and every
one of us was bleeding. The drummer didn’t say anything to us afterwards, he just left. So the
show was over, and I decided to go to an indian casino with a friend of mine. He had a butterfly
knife and a can of mase in his bag, and I had a pocket knife and a razor-blade in my pocket, so
we got those confiscated. Keep in mind, I was still bleeding at the time, from the chest. I walked
up to a blackjack table and sat down, and the dealer said, “Hey man, are you alright?” It was
raining outside and I was pretty wet, and my shirt was like covered in blood. I said yeah, and
proceeded to loose a couple hundred dollars in about 15 minutes.
I can think of plenty of reasons, but what do you think makes Dry Rot different from Generic
Hardcore Band A?
Jordan: Gosh this is a tough question! To be honest, absolutely nothing. Well, that’s not
entirely true. I would have said “Nothing” prior to our latest record, “Philistine”… I’ll get into that
in a bit. But until that recording, I didn’t view Dry-Rot as anything different from anything I’d
done prior, which many people would (and have) called ‘pedestrian’ or what have you. To me,
it has all been more of an extension. One thing has always followed another, and this was simply
the next creative step. I’ve never really measured my music / creativity in comparative terms
until recently, when we’ve been scrutinized up against other bands. It’s hard for me to see us
as ‘different’, any more than any band being different.
So with Dry-Rot, we had the serendipity of being at the “right place” at the “right time”. We kept
our heads down, had very small but very specific goals and most importantly we believed in it.
Maybe that’s what makes Dry-Rot different, the fact that we actually believe in it? That shows
through, I think. Whatever the case, we had a non-existent social network that was suddenly
fabricated by very “cool” / actually cool people: namely, to begin with, Chris Corry and Mike
Priehs. All of a sudden it went from 0 to 100.
As a “musician” though, I’d make a case that with our newest material we are markedly different.
Sonically, I wanted to create a new sound. Something that, in my narrow view of the world,
hadn’t been done but could be replicated. That is to say, it’s easy to do something new with
studio trickery, but to try to come up with a new style of playing the guitar is a small feat. I
think I accomplished what I set out to do; I wanted something really abrasive, but different
and still listenable. Something made with minimal effects.
Lastly, what’s possibly made us different and set us apart is honesty. Drew is the most honest
lyricist of our time, in my opinion. His writing shows not a hint of pretension. The music is
honest – we’ll play what we want when we want to; that’s the most liberating aspect of being
in a band! We’ve known since day one there would be a mountain of contempt for us as a band
and people, so that takes a lot of pressure off and allows us to make simple honest music.
Why did you expect a mountain of contempt?
Jordan: Well I guess coming up in punk / hardcore, I’ve been made fun of so much for
being religious that I knew this would be no exception. In fact I’ve experienced way more
persecution as a result of Dry-Rot than before. I grew up in the Nardcore scene and initially,
going to shows was FRIGHTENING. Those people are hard and scary, let’s not be mistaken. But
hanging out with them and playing music with them, putting on shows, etc created a relationship.
So I never really received anything negative for believing in Christ because, as fate would have
it, I’m not a jerk. So locally I became well-accepted. I remember being defended by the elder
people in the scene when I was verbally attacked for philosophical differences. I was defended
because I was actually doing things — drawing band art, booking shows, playing in bands,
promoting bands, making zines, etc. At that point, those people were mature enough to think
“Who cares, this guy is CONTRIBUTING” which was more than could be said of my detractors.
But when Dry-Rot started, it wasn’t music associated with that scene so it’s been a more
national thing. And since people are cowards, there’s been much mud slung at us over the
internet or through word of mouth. I’ve never once had a live confrontation since starting Dry-Rot.
I’m not selling anything and therefore I have no need or use for disclaimers, but as an example
I’ve looked at our mention of Christ as a litmus test: If you are going to get bent out of shape
over our decision to thank what you don’t even believe in the first place, then you are the
WRONG PERSON for our creative expression. If, on the other hand, you are skeptical yet
intrigued, I want to get to know you. I understand how that can be mistaken for arrogance.
I don’t know if you are familiar with Umberto Eco. He’s a superb author that is notoriously
difficult; a popular story goes that he intentionally makes the first 100 pages of his books
really insanely hard to get through. If you do get through them, you are rewarded with some
of the finest literature of our time; maybe ever. I won’t dare to make a direct comparison
but he’s a direct influence for my personal approach to this band. If you are true to what
you make, “your” audience will find you. It’s wading through the sea of idiots that proves
Drew: I think what makes us different, which Jordan touched on, is that we do things
exactly how we want them to be done, and in turn, every move we make is the right one.
Regardless of the outcome, we always win. Meaning we play some big festival and as soon as
we start to play and everyone leaves because we are stupid, or tons of people come and see
us and we play a great show. Or we play to nobody and people miss a great show. Whatever
happens, we like it. We played bar shows on tour, like three in a row, where everyone would
leave, even the bartenders. That makes me feel great, like we really accomplished something.
And I don’t know how we got stuck in that mindset. It could just be extreme arrogance. It’s
probably that, actually. But I don’t know, it really works for us!
What were the pivotal records that got you into hardcore in the first place?
Jordan: I grew up completely isolated from contemporary music, which I count as a
plus. My parents exposed me to classic rock like The Who and The Beatles and then Christian
music pioneers like Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill and so forth; I was encouraged to explore
and I never remember being scolded for wanting to listen to different music; I just never had
an interest in boring-people music. In a way it was a subversive upbringing of rejecting the
mainstream- a value I hold dearly to this day. So it was really fluid and easy for me to get into
punk. In fourth grade my uncle, who attended shows in LA in the early ’80s, played me Flipper,
Germs and The Ramones. It really scared me but a seed was planted; he’d make me tapes with
Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers on them… I just couldn’t get my mind around it. A couple
years later, in middle school, I was eased in by pop punk but I was still searching. I had some
really twisted friends in high school… I guess we gravitated toward each other in the same
way Drew and I do. I’m the perpetual straight man. So I remember getting really into the SST
stuff like Minutemen and Descendents. Didn’t get into Black Flag then… I heard them but they
weren’t fast! Then I distinctly remember hearing Minor Threat, the song “Guilty of Being White”.
From then on it was instant scavenging for THAT sound. Again, didn’t have many friends into
punk so we’d go to the record stores and I remember vividly searching for anything “punk”
with a publishing year between 1980-1985. I bought a lot of really crappy records, as you can
Any crappy records in particular that you remember purchasing, and disliking, but
still spending a lot of time listening to anyway, because you had no other options?
I feel like that’s kind of a crucial event that kids growing up today won’t ever really
suffer from, since all music is essentially available for free on the internet.
Jordan: I know there are plenty. I’ve never presumed to have good taste. Let me think.
I still stand behind them, but that pop punk band MXPX was huge to me. I knew this was not
good music in the traditional sense, and I had a moment of clarity even in middle school
picturing myself phasing it out. But it was something that related to what I was into at the
time. I loved every local band growing up, and many of them were absolutely not good. I also
was into the “later” material of many bands such as RKL, Stalag 13, Ill Repute, Suicidal
Tendencies and the like. I just had heard so much about these bands (from Nardcore locals,
zines, etc) but I could never find their early records in the stores! So I was “that guy”, just
buying CDs by the bands because I had heard of their names but their crucial (read: good)
albums were no longer in print/available at that time. Nowadays, coinciding with the day of
the internet is also the day of the re-issue, which is huge.
It sounds stupid but there’s something really great about the innocence of tastelessness. In
my ignorance, I was listening to music 24/7 (much like now) but I was completely
non-discriminating in my tastes–I could be easily convinced. Genres didn’t exist in my world
so I listened to everything, so long as it fit into a very large spectrum I’d crudely mapped out.
Drew: The first hardcore record I heard was Can’t Close My Eyes when I was
in 7th grade. My friend’s older brother made me a couple tapes of that, Break Down the
Walls, and Toilet Kids Bread by FYP. I was really into Gwar at the time, so going
from something like that with all the pomp and circumstance to something that was as fast
and angry sounding was an experience. I mean, listen to any Youth of Today record, Ray
sounds like he’s playing a show, that’s how intense his vocals are. And I couldn’t believe how
fast they were playing, and I didn’t know what was going on with the gang vocals, I thought
they had five singers or something. That instantly changed my life, like completely. It was an
empowering moment I think. Like everyone else, I was mad and felt very out of place in school,
and I didn’t know music could reflect the same feelings I had. I mean, I grew up listening to like
Alice In Chains and Soundgarden and Pantera from a pretty early age, but that junk didn’t even
sound aggressive compared to Youth of Today. I’m really having trouble articulating this right
now, but that was one of the biggest turning points in my life, definitely.
Does every band member have to agree with every decision you guys make, or
is the band more of a democracy? I ask this because you’ve done some pretty varied
stuff and I am curious if everyone is on-board 100% of the time or if some members
just let others take control.
Jordan: I’d describe the band as a dual dictatorship… maybe an oligarchy? Again, Drew
and I are the guts of the operation. I think we independently come up with ideas that are
presented with the foreknowledge that they will be given the green light. Although we are
extremely different personalities, we have a connection that allows us to think as one
musically. I can distinctly remember instances of independently drumming up ideas and
directions; it’s never a surprise that we are on the same page. Like Siamese twins.
I’ve had to go out on some pretty far limbs these past few years but I don’t think I’ve regretted
backing Drew on anything. He’s a very strange person, you know. There have been instances
live where I’ve been nervous about what he’ll do. But the pendulum swings both ways, I mean
I poured bleach on him for goodness’ sake so I can’t be too sheepish there.
Drew: I think in most bands it kind of ends up that one or two people kind of lead things.
In our case, Jordan and I are the ones that write all the music and lyrics, so that kind of makes
us the leaders by default I guess. I think when Cameron and Pat were in the band it was kind of
equal. Like, we were all on the same page musically I think. There was a lot of tension there but
I think we all equally shared the vision. The new bass player Adam is on the same page for sure,
I’m really excited that he is in the band because I think he’ll come up with good ideas. For one of
our shows he was planning on using a distortion pedal, but he would only turn it on in between
songs. Come on, that’s funny and good.
What happened with Cameron and Pat leaving the band? Did they play on Philistine?
Jordan: Our only tour, a full U.S. undertaking in the summer of 2007 practically dismantled
the band. For all intents and purposes, we are all fundamentally different people as a result of that
tour. It was literally life-changing. The best part about it is it wasn’t even that “crazy” on paper.
Many shows were badly promoted/attended, nobody cared, etc. I don’t think we did anything I’d
deem crazy. I attribute it’s importance (for lack of a better word) to the fact that we played live
what you hear on those records every night. If you think about that, it’s insane. Everyone’s always
so surprised that we are the visual representation of our recorded output. I remember getting
banned from a local club because of how we acted (I think bird seed and Pepto-bismol was
involved?). The guy said we were too much. It’s punk! I don’t know what you’re expecting! The
problem is the ‘genre’ has totally atrophied…there’s no muscle anymore. People are sedate and
play fast music for novelty when in fact there is nothing novel about this kind of music. It’s ugly,
dullard idiot music and so it suits us perfectly. So, long story short, those two kind of didn’t really
want to continue with that. And I don’t blame them. I never want to do a tour again; I doubt
Drew could. Patrick ended up moving away to Seattle and we are all four still friends today.
Would you prefer that Dry Rot garnered negative attention or no attention at all?
Drew: I would WAY rather get only negative attention. I would almost rather get negative
attention than positive attention. I mean I wouldn’t, I think it’s great that people like us and I
love hearing that this person likes the record or that person likes the record, but negative attention
is much more entertaining and funny. My attention span is really going to the dogs, so I’m always
looking for ways to make myself laugh. At Sound and Fury Festival, I overheard someone say that
we “just looked and sounded stupid.” I can’t get enough of that.
Jordan: There are days when I’m definitely in a ‘just get the name out there’ mood. I stand
behind the music. But more often than not, I simply don’t have time to think about it. So I guess
I’d prefer Dry-Rot get no attention at all, if that means we are left alone to do whatever we feel like.
Although, if there are any people out in the world who are like us, then maybe negative attention
because that’s all that really catches my interest in music these days. I will seek out negative
record reviews for new bands. Plus, a band like Dry-Rot exists as a signifier or beacon to be
noticed; there aren’t any bands with messages anymore. So in that regard, maybe we need all
the attention we can get.
Does Dry Rot have a message?
Jordan: Most certainly. I don’t think I’d be able to articulate it though. I’m not trying to be
cryptic either. It just never sounds right when put into words. It’s like explaining God to people.
Can you think of anything more absurd? It’s a failed technique. I’d say, musically at least, we
have a very distinct message that is completely open to interpretation; much like looking at a
Francis Bacon or Richard Diebenkorn painting. I’m sure they could explain it to you, but wouldn’t
that kind of ruin it a little bit?
If you could only provider the listener with a Dry Rot record or a Dry Rot live
show, which would you choose?
Jordan: Live show, no question. That is the most gratifying for us and least gratifying for
them. But in a critical analysis, I’d want to be held up on the merits of our recorded output. I
think “Philistine” has breached the water a bit and I’d rather be remembered for that than doing
something foolish on stage.
Drew: Oh, live performance definitely. Then we can not only sound stupid, but look stupid as well!